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The claim: In February 2020, the U.S. surgeon general tweeted masks ineffective against COVID-19
The mask-wearing debate continues on social media despite many myths – such as masks causing health problems or violating constitutional rights – being roundly, and repeatedly, debunked.
But adding more kindle to the fire is an Instagram post portraying former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams as against masks.
"Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!" Adams purportedly tweeted on Feb. 29, 2020.
"They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can't get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!"
The Instagram user ragingpatrioticbabe, whose content ranges from COVID-19 skepticism to pro-Trump memes, positions Adams' tweet as compelling evidence against mask-wearing, urging its audience to "NEVER FORGET this tweet from the US Surgeon General, which was deleted."
The post has received over 1,200 likes since it was posted on Feb. 15, and many comments agreeing with ragingpatrioticbabe's anti-mask sentiment.
"Yeah. A mask, social distancing and washing your hands will prevent the deadliest virus in history," commented dazed_confused70. "Forget your immune system."
"Double mask triple mask for what!" commented carmenkimberley.
USA TODAY has reached out to ragingpatrioticbabe for further comment.
Surgeon general reversed initial stance on masks
Adams did indeed discourage mask-wearing in a now-deleted tweet. Offline, the now-former surgeon general, who resigned at the request of President Joe Biden, repeated this message while on national television last March.
"And stay safe by washing your hands, by covering your cough, by staying home if you're sick. Masks do not work for the general public and preventing them from getting coronavirus," he told Margaret Brennan on CBS News' "Face the Nation."
Adams later revised his stance but defended his reasoning behind the February 2020 tweet, again to Brennan in July.
"I was saying that then because of everything we knew about coronaviruses before that point told us that people were not likely to spread when they were asymptomatic. So the science at the time suggested that there was not a high degree of asymptomatic spread. We learned more," he said.
Adams also claimed "very real" concerns of hoarding personal protective equipment and "people dressing up in trash bags as health care workers."
"We follow the science and when we learn more, our recommendations change," he also told Brennan.
Since then, Adams has fully endorsed mask-wearing both on and off social media. Speaking to Fox News' "Fox and Friends" in July about the surges in coronavirus cases, he advised viewers to be proactive in helping to prevent viral spread by "wearing a face covering when you go out, washing your hands, trying to watch your distance around other people."
He repeated this again to Fox News' Bret Baier after the hospitalization, both for reasons unrelated to COVID-19, of both his wife and mother in November.
"Wearing a mask is an instrument of freedom. It will actually let my kids go to school, it will protect my mother ... (who) is in the hospital right now. I want people to understand that if cases and hospitalizations continue to go up, not only will it hurt our ability to cure for COVID patients, but if someone is having a baby ... if someone is having a potential stroke like my mother, they may not be able to get a bed," Adams said.
Fact check: CDC is not inflating the COVID-19 death count
Initial public messaging on mask-wearing was mixed
Adams was not alone in dismissing masks early in the pandemic. Last February, while testifying before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, now-former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Robert Redfield advised prioritizing masks for frontline health care workers and stated there was "no role for masks in the community."
Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told a Senate committee last March masks were unnecessary "because right now, there isn't anything going around right now in the community, certainly not coronavirus, that is calling for the broad use of masks."
As researchers learned more about how contagious COVID-19 is, both Redfield and Fauci amended their messaging.
The World Health Organization and the CDC also did not initially recommend masks for healthy individuals. The CDC changed its recommendation on April 3, 2020, asking for voluntary masking, which then-President Trump acknowledged. Then, last July the CDC affirmed "that cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used universally within communities." The WHO revised its mask recommendations in June.
Our rating: Missing context
We rate this claim MISSING CONTEXT because without additional context it might be misleading. In February 2020, then-U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams did tweet that masks were ineffective in preventing COVID-19 transmission. He was among other public health experts and organizations, including the WHO and the CDC, who initially dismissed mask-wearing but later reversed their stances based on new scientific evidence in support of wider use of masks by the general public. Adams deleted his tweet and has since endorsed mask-wearing multiple times, both online and on national television.
Our fact-check sources:
USA TODAY, July 27, 2020, "Fact check: What's true and what's false about face masks?"
The Florida Times-Union, March 2, 2020, "'Seriously people - STOP BUYING MASKS!': Surgeon general says they won't protect from coronavirus"
The Washington Post, Jan. 20, "Surgeon General resigns at Biden's request"
CBS News, March 8, 2020, "Full transcript of 'Face the Nation' on March 8, 2020"
CBS News, July 12, 2020, "Transcript: Surgeon General Jerome Adams on 'Face the Nation,' July 12, 2020"
Jerome Adams, Dec. 12, 2020, Twitter thread
Fox News, July 20, 2020, "Surgeon general on COVID-19: The power to stop this is in the hands of the American people"
Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, Nov. 26, 2020, Twitter thread
Politico, Nov. 29, 2020, "Surgeon General makes plea: Wearing a mask 'will protect my mother'"
C-SPAN, March 26, 2020, "February 27, 2020 Clip of House Hearing on Coronavirus Response"
C-SPAN, April 11, 2020, "March 3, 2020 Clip of Health Officials on Federal Response to Coronavirus Outbreak"
The Hill, Sept. 30, 2020, "Fauci says his mask stance was 'taken out of context' by Trump"
The World Health Organization, March 30, 2020, "Should you wear a face mask? WHO officials weigh in at today's COVID-19 briefing"
NPR, April 3, 2020, "CDC Now Recommends Americans Consider Wearing Cloth Face Coverings in Public"
CNBC, April 3, 2020, "Trump says CDC advised cloth masks to protect against coronavirus, be he will not wear one"
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 14, 2020, "CDC calls on Americans to wear masks to prevent COVID-19 spread"
The World Health Organization, June 5, 2020, "WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 5 June 2020"
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Ex-Surgeon General Jerome Adams reversed position on masks